Advice for the Incoming 1Ls
1. Treat law school like a job: I treated my first semester of law school like the third semester of my senior year, with predictable results when grades came out. While it may take you a bit to catch on to the expectations of law professors, the material in law school is not necessarily inherently difficult; rather, it simply takes time to master. It takes some students more time than others to catch on. (It took me at least two semesters.) Once I began to simply go to school and stay there until I had finished my work (as opposed to trying to "study" while watching the Braves or Melrose Place) I found myself much more confident in class and much less anxious come exam time. Don't fall into the trap of sitting around with other law students complaining about the amount of work you have, and never getting around to doing it.I totally agree. I have found that the more time I physically spend at school, the better my grades are and the better I understand the material. You simply cannot treat law school like undergrad. In undergrad, you can get away with slacking off, not reading, not showing up to class, being hungover, all that typical college stuff. First year students especially need to hit the books hard. I, seasoned rising 3L that I am, can get away with book briefing a case. You can't. More on reading cases later.
2. Exercise: This is perhaps the most essential thing you can do (other than your classwork). Unfortunately, it is the first thing that harried law students convince themselves they're too busy to do. Nonesense. You're too busy not to do it...This is good advice, but it's not for everyone. Basically, just stay active. Do something that gets you out of the library, out of the house, just out somewhere. I would suggest disc golf.
The third and final bit of advice...
3. Maintain Outside Interests: Law school is very time-intensive, especially in the first year. You (and, perhaps, you significant others) will be eating and sleeping the law for 10-12 hours a day. But while law school should be treated like a job, it shouldn't be regarded as a prison sentence (if it begins to feel like this, you might want to revisit your decision to go). Therefore, make time for the things that you liked to do before you went to law school...This is probably the most important piece of advice that Prof Denning gave. Have a life outside of law school. Don't be that guy or girl who does nothing but talk about law school, professors, your outline, or whatever. That's annoying. You are not a one dimensional law robot (or at least I hope you aren't), so act like a real person. Have outside interests. And for the love of God, spend time with non-law school people. Law school world is not the real world. It's easy to get caught up in it, though. Take time to read a novel or go to the movies once a week. Do something to keep yourself grounded in the real world. And whatever you do, don't start a blog about law and legal analysis.
Prof Orin Kerr has also chimed in, posting his very helpful article How to Read a Judicial Opinion: A Guide for New Law Students. If you've never read caselaw, this will help you figure out exactly what the hell the judge is trying to say and what all those funny words mean. It's even a good read for laymen who might read a Supreme Court case or two every year, just out of interest. If I can think of any other pieces of advice based on my personal experience, I will post them later.
Good luck, 1Ls. Just remember this: lions can smell fear, law professors can smell when you haven't read for class.